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Selasa, 23 Mei 2017

Coloring Pages Of Animals That Live Underground

Coloring Pages Of Animals That Live Underground

the skavis had to know that i was closingin, and that it would not be long before i either caught up to helen and gotthe real story or else figured it out on my own. fight-or-flight instincts must have come downon the former. i'd been sent after helen on purpose. the skavis had meant to send me haring off after her, leaving him alone with allthose targets. no. i hadn't left him alone with the women he'dbeen tracking.

they were no threat to him. the skavis had decided to fight. he had isolated a target, all right, just as he had while hunting helplesswomen—one who would present a deadly danger to him, should she ever learnhis true identity. one who would be distinctly vulnerable, provided hecould approach her while camouflaged.

"oh, god," i heard myself say. "elaine." chapter thirty murphy came out of the building about tenseconds after i did. "thomas answered his phone, said he was on the way. he sounded kind of out of it, though. i called both rooms, but the call went straightto the hotel's voice

mail," she reported, slipping her cell phoneaway as she approached me. "does it do that by itself?" "no. you have to call the desk and ask for it." "dammit," i said, and tossed her my keys. "the skavis thought of that already. drive." murphy blinked at me, but turned to the beetleat once.

"why?" "i'm going to try to reach elaine my way,"i said. i hurried around my car to the passenger seat and jerked open thedoor. "get us there as fast as you can." "magic on the road? won't that kill the car?" "this car?

probably not," i said. "i hope not." i threw my staff in the backseat. "ow!" shrieked a voice. murphy's gun came out every bit as fast asi raised my blasting rod, its tip glowing with a scarlet incandescence. "don't shoot, don't shoot!" squeaked the voice,considerably more panicked. there was a flickering, and then molly appearedin my backseat, legs curled

up against her chest, her eyes wide, her facevery pale. "molly!" i shouted. "dammit, what do you think you're doing?" "i came to help. i was good enough to track down your car,wasn't i?" "i told you to stay home!" "because of the stupid bracelet?" she demanded. "that has got to be the

lamest scam ever. yoda never gave anybody a bracelet that—" i whirled in pure frustration and snarled,"fuego!" my raw anxiety and rage lashed from the tipof my blasting rod in a lance of blinding scarlet fire. it blasted into a metal trash can in frontof marcone's building and… well, it would bebragging to say that it vaporized the trash can. even i would have trouble with that.

it did, however, slag the thing into a shower of molten metal asit gouged a two-foot-deep, coffin-length furrow in the concrete of thesidewalk behind it. chunks of heated concrete and globs of molten metalhit the building's exterior, cracking several thick panes of glass, pockingstone walls, and leaving several wooden planters on fire. the concussion rattled every window within a hundred yards, and shattered the casingof the nearest streetlight, so

that it cast out fractured illumination. half a dozen car alarms went off. i turned back to molly and found her staringat me with her mouth open until my shadow, cast by the rising fires and crippledstreetlight, fell across her. my voice came out in a growl. "i. am not. yoda." i stripped the glove off my left hand andheld it up, my fingers spread.

it didn't look as horrific as it used to, butit was plenty ugly enough to make an impression on a nineteen-year-old girl. "this isn't a goddamn movie, molly. screw up here and you don't vanish and leavean empty cloak. you don't get frozen in carbonite. and you should damned well know that by now."

she looked shocked. i'll curse from time to time, but i don'tgenerally indulge in blasphemy—at least, not aroundmichael or his family. i don't think god is terribly threatened by my occasionalslip of the tongue, but i owe enough to michael to respect his wishesregarding that particular shade of profanity. mostly. hell, the whole practice of invective wasdeveloped to add extra emphasis

when the mere meaning of words alone justwasn't enough. and i was feeling plenty emphatic. snarling, i cupped my left hand, focused myongoing anger, and a sudden sphere of light and heat blossomed to life. it wasn't big—about the diameter of a dime. but it was as bright as a tiny sun. "harry," murphy said.

her voice was a little shaky. "we don't have time for this." "you think you're ready?" i told molly. "show me." i blew on the sphere and it wafted out ofmy hand and glided smoothly into the open door of the beetle and toward molly'sface. "wh-what?" she said.

"stop it," i said, my voice cold. "if you can." she swallowed and raised a hand. i saw her try to control her breathing and focus her will, her lips blurring over thesteps i'd taught her. the sphere drifted closer. "better hurry," i added. i did nothing to hide the anger or the taintof derision in my voice.

beads of sweat broke out on her skin. the sphere slowed, but it had not stopped. "it's about twelve hundred degrees," i added. "it'll melt sand into glass. it doesn't do much for skin, either." molly lifted her left hand and stammered outa word, but her will fluttered and failed, amounting to nothing more thana handful of sparks. "bad guys don't give you this much time,"i spat.

molly hissed—give the kid credit, she didn'tlet herself scream—and pressed herself as far as she could from the fire. she threw up an arm to shield her eyes. for a second, i felt a mad impulse to letthe fire continue for just a second more. nothing teaches like a burned hand, whispereda darker part of my self. i should know.

but i closed my fingers, willed the endingof the spell, and the sphere vanished. murphy, standing across the car, just staredat me. molly lowered her hand, her arm moving infrightened little jerks. she sat there shivering and staring. her tongue piercing rattled against her teeth. i looked at both of them and then shook myhead. i got control of my

rampaging temper. then i leaned down and stuck my head in thecar, looking molly in the eyes. "we play for keeps, kid," i said quietly. "i've told you before: magic isn't a solution to every problem. you still aren't listening." molly's eyes, frightened and angry, filledwith tears. she turned her head

away from me and said nothing. she tried not to make any noise, but it's tough to keep a good poker face when a snarlingmadman nearly burns it off. there wasn't any time to waste—but i gavethe kid a few seconds of space while i tried to let my head cool off. the door to marcone's building opened. hendricks came out. marcone followed him a moment later. he surveyed the damage.

then he glanced at me. marcone shook his head, took a cell phonefrom his suit pocket, and went back inside, while hendricks kept mepinned down with his beady-eyed scowl. what i'd seen soulgazing helen beckitt wasstill glaringly fresh in my mind —just as it always would be. marcone had looked a lot younger when he wore his hair longer, less neat, and dressed morecasually.

or maybe he'd just looked younger before he'd seen helen's daughterdie. the thought went utterly against the pressureof the rage inside me, and i grabbed hold of myself while i had the chance. i took a deep breath. i wouldn't do anyone any good if i charged infull of outrage and absent of brains. i took another deep breath and turned to findmurphy on the move.

she walked around the car and faced me squarely. "all done?" murphy asked me, her voice pitched low. "you want to smoke a turkey or set fire to a playground or anything? you could terrorize a troop of cub scouts as an encore." "and after that, i could tell you all abouthow to do your job, maybe," i said, "right after we bury the people whoget killed because we're standing

here instead of moving." she narrowed her eyes. neither one of us met each other's gaze ormoved an inch. it wasn't a long standoff, but it was plentyhard. "not now," she said. "but later. we'll talk. this isn't finished."

i nodded. "later." we got in the beetle and murphy started itup and got moving. "ask you questions as we go?" i calculated distances in my head. the communion spell with elaine had been created to reach over a couple of yards atthe most. it had mostly been used

at, ahem, considerably shorter range thanthat. i could extend the range, i thought, to most of a mile—maybe. it wasn't as simple as just pouring more power into the spell, but it was fairly simple. that gave me a couple of minutes to steady my breathing while murphydrove. i could talk while that happened.

it would, in fact, help me keep my mind offmy fear for elaine. ah, reason, banisher of fear—or at leastprovider of a place to stick my head in the sand. "go ahead," i told her. i paid no attention to molly, giving the kidtime to think over the lesson and to get herself together. she didn't like anyone to see her when she was upset. "why do you think your ex is in danger?"

murphy asked. "shouldn't this skavis just run off if it knows you're ontoit?" "if it was operating alone, sure," i said. "that would be the smart thing. but it isn't running off. it's making a fight of it." "so… what? it has help?"

"it has rivals," i said. "yeah. grey cloak and madrigal raith." murphy shook her head. "but what does that mean?" "think in terms of predators," i said. "one predator has just gotten its teeth into something good to eat."

"scavengers?" murphy said. "they're trying to take the prize from him?" "yeah," i said. "i think that's what they're doing." "you mean elaine?" i shook my head. "no, no. more abstract.

the skavis is methodical. it's killing women of magical talent. it doesn't have to do that to live—it can eat any human being." "then why those targets?" "exactly," i said. "why them? this isn't about food, murph.

i think the skavis is making a play for power." "power?" molly blurted from the backseat. i turned and gave her a glare that quelledher interest. she sank back into the seat. "within the white court," i said. "this entire mess, start to

finish, is about a power struggle within thewhite court." murph was silent for a second, absorbing that. "then… then this is a lot bigger than a few killings in a few towns." "if i'm right," i said, nodding. "yeah." "go on." "okay. and remember as i go that white court vampsdon't like their fights

out in the open. they arrange things. they use cat's-paws. they pull strings. confrontation is for losers." "got it." "the white king is supporting peace talksbetween the council and the red courts.

i think the skavis is trying to prove a point—thatthey don't need peace talks. that they have us in a choke hold and allthey have to do is hang on." murphy frowned at me, and then her eyes widened. "you told me once that magic is inherited. mostly along family lines." "salic law," i said.

"mostly through female lines. i got it from my mom." murphy nodded, her eyes going back to theroad. "and they can start… what? thinning the herd, i suppose, from their pointof view. killing those that have the potential to produce more wizards." "one skavis goes around to half a dozen citiesin the most dangerous—to them—nation on the planet,doing it at will," i said.

"he proves how easy it is. he identifies and hunts down the best targets. he plants all kinds of distrust for the councilas he does it, making the potential prey distrust the only people whocould help them." "but what does he hope to accomplish?" "this is just one guy." "exactly what he wants them to say," i said.

"look what just one vampire accomplished working alone. look how easy it was. raith is weak. time to expand the operation now, while the councilis hurt, and screw talking peace with them. change the guard. let house skavis take leadership."

"and grey cloak and madrigal, seeing thathe's onto something good, try to swoop in at the last minute, shoulder theskavis aside, and take credit for the plan in front of the whole court," murphyfinished. they sing the exact same tune, only they substitutemalvora for skavis." "the hell of it is, if madrigal hadn't hada personal beef with me i might not have gotteninvolved. i made him look really bad when he tried to auction me onebay and instead i fed his djinn

to the scarecrow and made him run off likea girl." "like a what?" murphy bridled. "now is not the time to go all susie q. anthonyon me," i said. "madrigal's wounded pride makes him leave clues to tryto sucker me into the show. figures grey cloak or our skavis killer willhelp him handle me. except that they ran into another problem."

"thomas," murphy said, her voice certain. "thomas," i said. "snatching their targets out from under them." "how's he finding them?" "same way they are," i said. "he's a vampire. he knows what resources they have and how they think. so much so, in fact, that he's ruining thefinale

of the whole program for everyone involved." murphy nodded, getting it. "so madrigal gets a gang of ghouls and triesto take out his own cousin. and finds you and elaine there too." "right," i said. "he's already being a loser, but it's stilla sucker punch, and madrigal figures, what the hell. if he gets away with it, he pulls off

the plan and gets his mojo back from me." "i still don't get why thomas didn't say anything,"murphy said. "to you, i mean. i never figured him for that kind of secrecy." "that's what tipped me off to the whole thing,"i said. "there just aren't many things which could make thomas do that. i think he was counting on it

to tip me off, in fact." "a phone call would have been easier." "not if he's being watched," i said. "and not if he's made a promise." "watched?" "by who?" "someone who has more than one kind of leverage,"i said. "someone who is his family, who is protecting the woman heloves, and who has the kind of

resources it takes to watch him, and enoughsavvy to know if he's lying." "lara raith," murphy said. "big sister is the one behind the peace movement,"i said. "everyone thinks it's papa raith, but he's just her puppetnow. except that there aren't many people who know that." "if raith's authority is challenged openlyby the skavis," murphy said, putting things together, "it exposes the factthat he's utterly powerless.

lara would have to fight openly." "and the white court vamp who is driven tothat has already lost," i said. "she can't maintain her control over the courtif she's revealed as the power behind the throne. not only does she not have the raw strengthshe'd need to hold on to it, but the very fact thatshe was revealed would make her an incompetent manipulator and thereforeautomatically unsuitable in the eyes of the rest of the white court." murphy chewed on her lip.

"if papa raith falls, lara falls. and if lara falls…" "justine goes with her," i said, nodding. "she wouldn't be able to protect her for thomas anymore." "then why didn't she just have thomas go toyou and ask for help? " murphy said.

"she can't have it get out that she askedfor help from the enemy team, murph. even among her own supporters, that couldbe a disaster. but remember that she knows how to pull strings. maybe better than anyone operating right now. she wouldn't be upset if i got involved andstomped all over agents of skavis and malvora."

murphy snorted. "so she forbids thomas from speaking to youabout it." "she's too smart for that. thomas gets stubborn about being given orders. she gets him to promise to keep quiet. but by doing that, she's also done the one thing she knows will make him defiantto the spirit of the promise. so he's made a promise and he can't come outand talk to me, but he wants to get my attention."

"ha," murphy said. "so he gets around it. he works sloppy, deliberately. lets himself be seen repeatedly taking offwith the women he was rounding up." "and leaves a big old honking wall o' cluesin his apartment for me, knowing that when i get involved, i'm going to getcurious about why he's been seen with missing women and why he's not talkingto me. he can't talk to me about

it, but he leaves me a map." i found my right foot tapping against an imaginary accelerator, my left against a nonexistentclutch. "stop twitching," murphy said. the beetle jolted over some railroad tracks, officially taking us to the wrong side. "i'm a better driver than you, anyway." i scowled because it was true.

"so right now," murphy said, "you think priscillais shilling for the skavis agent." she is the skavis agent." "i thought you said it was a man," murphysaid. "strike you funny that priscilla wears turtlenecksin the middle of a hot summer?" murphy let out a word that should not be spokenbefore small children. "so if you're right, he's going to clip elaineand all those moms."

"kids too," i said. "and anyone who gets in the way." "mouse," molly said, her voice worried. this time i didn't yell her down. i was worried about him, too. "the skavis knows that mouse is special. he saw the demonstration. that's been the only

thing keeping him from acting sooner thanhe did. if the vampire started drawing upon his powers, mouse would havesensed it and blown his cover. so mouse is definitely going to be near the topof his list." murphy nodded. "so what's the plan?" "get us to the motel," i said. we were getting close enough that i could

start trying the spell. "i'm going to try to reach elaine." "then what?" "i've got no use for anything that does whatthis thing does," i said. "do you?" her blue eyes glittered as the car zippedthrough the illumination of a lonely streetlamp. "no."

"and as i recall, you are on vacation rightnow." "and having fun, fun, fun," she snarled. "then we won't worry too much about savinganything for later," i said. turned my head and said, "molly." the girl's head whipped up almost audibly. "um. what?" "can you drive a stick?" she was silent for a second, then jerked herhead in a nod.

"then when we get out, i want you to get behindthe wheel and keep the engine running," i said. "if you see anyone else coming, honk the horn. if you see a tall woman in a turtleneck sprintingaway, i want you to drive the car over her." "i… but… but…" "you wanted to help. you're helping."

i turned back around. "do it." her answer came back with the automatic speedof reflex. "yes, sir." "what about grey cloak and madrigal?" murphy asked me. "even if we take out the skavis, they're waiting to jump in." "one thing at a time," i said.

"drive." then i closed my eyes, drew in my will, andhoped that i could call out to elaine—and that she would be alive to hearme. chapter thirty-one i closed my eyes and blocked out my senses,one by one. the smell of the car and murphy's deodorant went first. at least molly had learned from experience and left off any overt fragranceswhen she tried to use the veil

trick a second time. sound went next. the beetle's old, laboring engine, the rattle of tires on bad spots of road, andthe rush of wind all faded away. chicago's evening lights vanished from theirirregular pressure on my closed eyelids. the sour taste of fear in my mouth simplybecame not, as i focused on the impromptu variation of the old, familiarspell. elaine.

i referred to the same base image i alwayshad. elaine in our first soulgaze, an image of a woman of power, grace,and oceans of cool nerve superimposed over the blushing image of aschoolgirl, naked for the first time with her first lover. i had known what she would grow into, eventhen, that she would transform the gawky limbs andawkward carriage and blushing cheeks into confidence and poise and beautyand wisdom. the wisdom, maybe,

was still in process, as evidenced by herchoice of first lovers, but even as an adult, i was hardly in a position tocast stones, as evidenced by my choice of pretty much everything. what we hadn't known about, back then, waspain. sure, we'd faced some things as children thata lot of kids don't. sure, justin had qualified for his junior de sadebadge in his teaching methods for dealing with pain. we still hadn't learned, though, that growingup is

all about getting hurt. and then getting over it. you hurt. you recover. move on. odds are pretty good you're just going toget hurt again. but each time, you learn something. each time, you come out of it a little stronger,and at some point you

realize that there are more flavors of painthan coffee. there's the little empty pain of leaving something behind—graduating,taking the next step forward, walking out of something familiarand safe into the unknown. there's the big, whirling pain of life upendingall of your plans and expectations. there's the sharp little pains of failure,and the more obscure aches of successes that didn't giveyou what you thought they would. there are the vicious, stabbing pains of hopesbeing torn up.

the sweet little pains of finding others, giving themyour love, and taking joy in their life as they grow and learn. there's the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a woundedfriend and help them bear their burdens. and if you're very, very lucky, there area very few blazing hot little pains you feel when you realize that you arestanding in a moment of utter perfection, an instant of triumph, or happiness,or mirth which at the same

time cannot possibly last—and yet will remainwith you for life. everyone is down on pain, because they forgetsomething important about it: pain is for the living. only the dead don't feel it. pain is a part of life. sometimes it's a big part, and sometimes itisn't, but either way, it's part of the big puzzle,the deep music, the great game. pain does two things: it teaches you, tellsyou that you're alive. then it

passes away and leaves you changed. it leaves you wiser, sometimes. sometimes it leaves you stronger. either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happento you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another. adding pain to that image of elaine wasn'ta process of imagining horrors, fantasizing violence, speculating upon suffering. it was no different from

an artist mixing in new color, adding emphasisand depth to the image that, while bright, was not true to itself or tolife. so i took the girl i knew and added in the pains the woman i was reachingfor had been forced to face. she'd stepped into a world she'd left behindfor more than a decade, and found herself struggling to face life withoutrelying upon anyone else. she'd always had me, and justin—and whenwe'd gone away, she'd leaned upon a sidhe woman named aurora for help and support. when that had vanished, she

had no one—i had given my love to someoneelse. justin had been dead for years. she'd been alone in a city, different fromeveryone around, struggling to survive and to build a life and a home. so i added in all the pains i'd learned. cooking blunders i'd had to eat anyway. equipment and property constantly breakingdown, needing repairs and

attention. tax insanity, and rushing around trying tohack a path through a jungle of numbers. late bills. unpleasant jobs that gave you horribly aching feet. odd looks from people who didn't know you,when something less than utterly normal happened. the occasional night when the loneliness achedso

badly that it made you weep. the occasional gathering during which you wanted to escape to your empty apartment sobadly you were willing to go out the bathroom window. muscle pulls and aches you never had whenyou were younger, the annoyance as the price of gaskept going up to some ridiculous degree, the irritation with unruly neighbors,brainless media personalities, and various politicians who all seemed tofall on a spectrum somewhere between the extremes of "crook" and "moron."

you know. life. and the image of her in my mind deepened,sharpened, took on personality. there's no simple way to describe it, butyou know it when you see it, and the great artists can do it, can slip in theshades of meaning and thought and truth into something as simple as a girlnamed mona's smile, even if they can't tell you precisely how they managedit. the image of elaine gained shadows, flaws,character, and strength. i didn't

know the specifics of what she'd been through—notall of them, anyway—but i knew enough, and could make good guesses aboutplenty more. that image in my mind drew me in as i focused on it, just asi once had focused on that younger image of elaine unrealized. i reached out with my thoughts and touched that image, breathing gentle lifeinto it as i whispered her true name, freely given to me when we were young,within the vaults of my mind. elaine lilian mallory.

and the image came to life. elaine's face bowed forward, her hair fallingaround it, not quite hiding the expression of bone-deep weariness anddespair. elaine, i whispered to her. can you hear me? her thoughts came to me in an echoing blur,like when they want to confuse you at the movies and they muck around witha voice-over… believe i could make a difference. one person doesn't.

one person can't ever make a difference. not in the real world. god, what arrogance. and they paid for it. i put more will into my thoughts. elaine ! she glanced up for a moment, looking dullyaround the room.

the image of her was filling in, slowly. she was in well-lit room without many features. most of it seemed to be white. then her head bowed again. trusting me to keep them safe. i might as well pull the trigger myself. too

cowardly for that, though. i just sit here. set things up so that i don't have to fail. i don't have to try. i don't have to worry about being nothing. all i have to do is sit. i didn't like the sound of that at all.

within the senseless vaults of my mind, i screamed, elaine! she looked up again, blinking her eyes slowly. her mouth began moving in time with her audible thoughts. "don't know what i thought i could do. one woman. one woman who spent her whole life runningaway.

being broken. would have served them better to end it beforei ever left, rather than dragging them down with me." her lips stopped moving, but, very faintly,i heard her thoughts call, harry? and suddenly i could hear a difference inthe other thoughts. "just sit," she mumbled. "almost over now. i won't be useless anymore.

just sit and wait and i won't have to hurt anymore. won't fail anyone else. will all be over and i can rest." it didn't sound like elaine's voice. there were subtle differences. sounded… like someone doing an impersonation. it was close, but it wasn't there were too many small inconsistencies.

then i got it. that was the skavis, whispering thoughts ofdespair and grief into her mind, just as the raiths would whisper of lust andneed. she was under attack. elaine lilian mallory! i called, and in my head, my voice rumbledlike thunder. i am harry blackstone copperfield dresden,and i bid thee hear me! hear my voice, elaine!

there was a shocked silence, and then elaine'sthought-voice said, more clearly, harry? and her lips moved, and the not-elaine voicesaid, "what the hell?" elaine's eyes snapped to mine, suddenly meetingthem, and the room around her clarified into crystalline relief. she was in the bathroom of the hotel, in thetub, naked in the bath. the air was thick with steam. she was bleeding from a broad cut across one wrist.

the water was red. her face was god-awful pale, but her eyesweren't fogged over and hazed out. not yet. elaine! i thundered. you are under a psychic attack! priscilla is the skavis!

elaine's eyes widened. someone slapped me hard on the face and screamed,"harry!" the world flew sideways and expanded in arush of motion and sound as my denied senses came crashing back in upon me. the beetle was sitting sideways across several parking spaces in the motel'slittle lot, both doors open, and murphy, gun in one hand, had a hold ofmy duster with the other and was shaking me hard. "harry!

get up!" "oh," i said. "we're here." i stumbled out of the car, getting my bearings. behind me, molly scrambled behind the wheel. "well?" murphy demanded. "did you get through?"

i opened my mouth to answer, but before icould, every light in sight suddenly went dim. i don't mean they went out. they didn't they just… dwindled, the way a lantern's flame does ifyou close off the glass. or, i thought, struck with a sudden impression,the way a fire might dim if something nearby had just drawn the air away. something big enough to dim

nearby flame as it inhaled. something big taking a deep breath. and then a voice that rang with silvery ragerolled through the air, kicking up a layer of dust from the ground in a broadwave in the wake of its passing as it rang out in an echoing clarioncall, "ful-minaris!" there was a flash of green-white light sobright that it came to my reawakened senses as a physical pain, a roarof sound loud enough to drown out a spring break band, and the entire frontwall of the first-floor hotel room we'd rented earlier that day was blownoff the freaking building and

into the street. i had my shield up overhead before the debrisstarted raining down, protecting murphy, me, the windshield of thebeetle, and the girl staring wide-eyed through it. i squinted through the flying bits of buildingand furniture and rock, and a second later managedto spot a broken human form lying with its head in the street, its feetstill up on the curb. priscilla's turtleneck was on fire, and herhair stood straight out and was blackened and burned off within three or fourinches of her skull.

she ripped the turtleneck away in a kind of wobbly,disoriented panic—and revealed a bra and falsies. those got ripped off too, and what was left, while slender and hairless, was also obviouslythe upper torso of a very pale, rather effeminate-looking man. there was motion in the gaping maw of ruinthat had been elaine's hotel room, and a woman appeared in it. she was dressed in the cheap plastic

curtain that had been hanging over the tub. she had a thick-linked chain wrapped tightly around her left arm a coupleof inches above her bloodied, slashed wrist, tied in an improvised tourniquet. she was quite dry, and her hair floated out and around her head, cracklingwith little flashes of static electricity as she moved. she slid herself slowly, carefully across the debris-strewn floor, and she held a shortlength of carved wood that

looked like nothing so much as an enormousthorn of some kind in her right hand, its sharp tip pointing at the man inthe parking lot. tiny slivers of green lightning danced around its tip, occasionallyflickering out to touch upon nearby objects with snapping, poppingsounds as she passed. elaine kept that deadly little wand pointedat the skavis, eyes narrowed, and said, her voice rough and raw, "who'suseless now, bitch?" i just stared at elaine for a long minute. then i traded a glance with

murphy, who looked just as startled and impressedas i felt. "murph," i said, "i think i got through." the skavis agent came to his feet and boundedat us, quick as thinking. i raised my staff and unleashed a burst ofraw force. he might be strong as hell, but once off the ground, with nothingto push against, he was just mass times acceleration. the blow from the staff swatted him out ofthe air

to the concrete not far from the beetle. i immediately used another blow to throw him back across the parking lot, creatingclear space around him. "thank you, harry," elaine said, her roughvoice prim. then she lifted the wand and snapped, "fulminaris!" there was another blinding flash of light,another crack of homemade thunder, and a green-white globe of lightenclosed the vampire. there was a

scream, and then his limp form fell to theconcrete, one shoulder and most of his chest blackened. it smelled disturbingly like burned bacon. elaine lifted her chin, eyes glittering. she lowered the wand, and as she did, the lights came back up to full strength. she nodded once. then she slipped and staggered to one side.

"watch him!" i barked to molly, pointing at the fallenvampire. murphy and i reached elaine at about the sametime, and we tried to catch her before she dropped. we succeeded in easing her down to the debris- littered concrete. "jesus," murphy said. "harry, she needs a hospital." "they'll be watching the—"

"fuck 'em," murphy said, rising. "they can watch her through a wall of cops." she stalked away, drawing out her phone. i bit my lip as elaine looked up at me andsmiled faintly. she spoke, her words faintly slurred. "dammit. every time i come to chicago, i've got to

get rescued. embarrassing as hell." "at least it wasn't me that did the buildingthis time," i said. she made a sound that might have been a laughif she'd had more energy behind it. "bastard had me dead to rights. snuck it up on me. realize." "that's how the old psychic whammy works,"i said quietly.

"once you start thinking, 'gee, maybe that isn't me thinkingabout suicide,' it kind of falls apart." "wouldn't have happened if you hadn't warnedme," she said. she met my eyes again. "thank you, harry." i smiled at her, and checked her wrist. "this doesn't look good.

we're gonna get you to a doctor. okay?" she shook her head. "the upstairs room. abby, olivia, the others. make sure they're all right." "i doubt they've lost as much blood as youhave," i said.

murphy, though, was way ahead of me, and was already on thestairs on the way up to the second level, then down to check the room. time to wrap this up." i picked elaine up. i made sure the shower curtain didn't fall off. "come on. you can sit in the car until the emts get

here. maybe i can find something else to keep yourarm tied off, huh?" "if you can find my purse," she said, hereyes closed now, a little smile on her mouth, "you can use my golden lariat." i turned to the car just as the horn startedfrantically beeping. i whirled. the skavis agent was moving again. he got his knees underneath him. "dammit," i said, and rushed the car.

i got the passenger door open and dumped elaine inside, even as the skavis roseto his feet. "murphy!" murphy called something i didn't hear verywell. the skavis turned toward me. his face, all contorted with burns on oneside, twisted up into a hideous grimace. murphy's gun began barking in a steady, deliberateshooting rhythm.

sparks flew up from the concrete near his feet. at least one shot hit the skavis, making his upper body jerk. i rose, blasting rod in hand. there was a roar more appropriate to a greatcat than any dog, and the sound of shattering glass from the second level. mouse flew over the safety railing, landed heavily on the ground, andlunged at the skavis.

the dog wasn't six inches behind the skavisagent as it closed on me, its one remaining arm raised up to… well, hitme. but given how hard the blow was going to be, i upgraded the verb to smite. he was about to smite me. thomas came out of nowhere with that cavalrysaber of his and took off the skavis's smiting arm at the shoulder. he let out a scream that didn't sound anythinglike human, and tried to bite i rolled out of his way, helping him alongwith a stiff shove to his

back. mouse came down on top of him, and that wasthat. i eyed thomas as mouse made sure that theremarkably resilient vampire wasn't going to be getting up again for anything,ever. it had been a close call. the skavis had timed his move just right. another second, give or take, and he'd have broken my neck.

"well," i told thomas, my breathing stillquick. "it's about time." "better late than never," thomas replied. he glanced at the bleeding elaine, licked his lips once, and said, "she needshelp." "it's on the way," murphy said. "response is slow here, but give them a couple of minutes. everyone's okay up there, harry."

thomas let out a breath of relief. "thank god." which was odd, coming from him, all thingsconsidered. i concurred with the sentiment, though. molly sat behind the wheel of the beetle,breathing too quickly, her eyes very wide. she couldn't quite see mouse or his grislychew toy from where she was sitting, but she stared as if shecould see right through the

beetle's hood to where my dog was finishingup his deadly, ugly work. "so," i asked thomas. "how'd lara get you to promise not to talk?" my brother turned toward me and gave me ahuge grin. then he wiped it off his face and said, in the tone of a radioannouncer on prozac, "i don't know what you're talking about, warden dresden." he winked. "but hypothetlcally

speaking, she might have told me that justinewas in danger and refused to divulge anything else until i promised tokeep my mouth shut." "and you let her get away with that kind ofcrap?" i asked him. thomas shrugged and said, "she's family." molly suddenly lunged up out of the driver'sseat of the beetle and was noisily sick. "seems a little fragile," thomas said. "she's adjusting," i replied.

"madrigal and his malvora buddy are stillout there." "yeah," thomas said. "so?" "so that means that this was just a warm-up. they're still a threat," i "they've got enough bodies to lay the wholething out to the white court and make people like the ordo look likea casino buffet. if that

happens, it won't just be one skavis runningaround with a point to prove. it will be a quiet campaign. thousands of people will die." thomas grunted. there's not a lot we can do about that, though." "says who?" i replied. he frowned at me and tilted his head. "thomas," i said quietly, "by any chance,is there a gathering of the white

court anytime soon? perhaps in relation to the proposed summittalks?" "if there was a meeting of the most powerfulhundred or so nobles of the court scheduled to meet at the family estatethe day after tomorrow, i couldn't tell you about it," thomas said. "because i gave my sister my word." "your sister has guts," i said. "and she sure as hell knows how to put ona

show." i glanced at the ruined hotel, and droppedmy hand to scratch mouse's ears. they were about the only part of him not stainedwith too-pale blood. "of course, i've been known to bring downthe house once or twice, myself." thomas folded his arms, waiting. his smile was positively vulpine. "call lara," i said. "pass her a message for me."

thomas narrowed his eyes. "what message?" i bared my teeth in an answering smile. chapter thirty-two murphy might not have been officially in chargeof special investigations, but i don't think that made much differenceto many of the other detectives there. she needed help, and when she called, theycame. end of story.

for them, at least. for murphy, it was the beginning of the story. she had to tell a lot of stories around police headquarters. it was a part of her job. oh, no, those reports of vampire attacks werethe results of hysterical drug-induced hallucinations. troll?

it was a large and ugly man, probably drunk or on drugs. he got away, investigation ongoing. everyone buys it, because that's what si gets paid to do—explainaway the bogeyman. murphy should be a novelist, she writes somuch fiction. we had a big mess here, but murph and herfellow cops in si would make it fit in the blanks. terrorists were hot right now.

this report would probably have terrorists in it. scared religious nuts and terrorists who setoff incendiary devices at an apartment buildingand in her car, and who also doubtless set the device that blew up an entireroom at a cheap south-side motel. there weren't any corpses to clean up—justone wounded woman who probably needed to see a shrink more thana jail cell. i debated with myself

over whether or not to suggest she add ina bit with a dog. people love dogs. you can never go wrong adding a dog to thestory. "right, mouse?" mouse looked unhappily up at me. thomas had gotten the women and kids clear of the scene and handled what was left ofthe skavis agent while i'd gone to a car wash and cleaned his blood off of mydog with the sprayer.

mouse's fur keeps out just about everything, but whenit finally gets wet, it soaks up about fifty gallons and stays that way fora long time. he doesn't like it, and he was apparently feeling petulant aboutthe entire process. "everybody loves a bit with a dog," i said. mouse exhaled steadily, then shook his headonce and laid it back down, politely and definitely ignoring me. i get no respect.

i sat on a hospital bench near the emergencyroom entrance with mouse pressed up against one of my legs as he layon the floor, just in case anyone wondered who he was with. it had been a long night, and despite elaine's incredible hands, my headache hadbegun to return. i tried to decide whether cowl's mental whammy or madrigaland his stupid assault rifle deserved more blame for that. a brawny kid in a brown uniform shirt cameup to me the way good security

guys do in the midwest—all friendly andnice, until it's time to not be nice. the wit and wisdom of patrick swayze movieslives on. "sorry, mister," he said in a friendly tone, one hand restingcongenially on his nightstick. "no dogs allowed. hospital rules." i was tired. "if i don't take him out," i said, "are yougoing to tonfa me

to death?" he blinked at me. "what?" "tonfa," i said. "imagine all the meal that isn't getting groundso that you can do your job. all the knives going unsharpened." he smiled, and i could see him classify meas "drunk, harmless." he put out

one hand in a come-along sort of gesture. "your nightstick there. it's called a tonfa. it was originally a pin that held a millstone or a big round grinding stonein a smithy. it got developed into an improvised weapon by people in southeastasia, okinawa, places like that, where big friendly security types likeyourself took away all the real weapons in the interest of public safety."

his smile faded a little. "okay, buddy…" he put his hand on my shoulder. mouse opened his eyes and lifted his head. that's all. he didn't growl at the brawny kid. he didn't show his teeth. like all the most dangerous people i know,he didn't feel a need to make any displays.

he just sort of took notice—with extremeprejudice. the security kid was smart enough to get thepicture and took a quick step his hand went from the nightstick to his radio. even patrick swayze needed help sometimes. murphy came walking up, her badge hangingon a chain around her neck, and said, "easy there, big guy." she traded a nod with the security kid and hooked a thumb back at me.

"he's with us. the dog is a handicap-assist animal." the kid lifted his eyebrows. "my mouth is partially paralyzed," i said. "it makes it hard for me to read. he's here to help me with the big words. tell me if i'm supposed to push or pull on doors, that kind of thing."

murphy gave me a gimlet glance, and turnedback to the guard. "see what i mean? i'll have him out of your hair in a minute." the security guard glanced dubiously at me,but nodded at murphy and said, "all right. i'll check back in a bit, see if you needanything." "thanks," murphy said, her tone even. the guard departed.

murphy sighed and sat down next to me, herfeet on the other side of mouse. the dog gave her leg a fond nudge and settledback down "he'll be back to see if you need help," itold murphy in a serious voice. "a sweet little thing like you could get introuble with a big, crazy man like me." "mouse," murphy said. "if i knock harry out and write, 'insufferable wiseass,' on his head in permanent marker,will you help him read it?"

mouse glanced up at murphy and cocked hishead speculatively. then he sneezed and lay back down. "why'd you give him a hard time?" i nodded at a pay phone on the wall next toa drinking fountain and a vending machine. "waiting for a call." "ah," murphy said. "where's molly?"

"she was falling asleep on her feet. rawlins took her home for me." murphy grunted. "i said we'd talk about her." "what you did, harry…" murphy shook herhead. "she needed it," i said. "she needed it." the words were crisp. i shrugged.

"the kid's got power. she thinks that means she knows more than other people. that's dangerous." murphy frowned at me, listening. "i'd been planning the little ball-of-face-melty-sunshinething for a while now," i said. "i mean, come on. fire is hard to control.

i couldn't have done something like that without practicingit, and you can't exactly use a nice, slow, dramatic face-melty fireball ina real fight, can you?" "maybe not," murphy said. "i had a kind of face-melty thing come atme once, and it made an impression," i said. "molly… got off to a bad start. she took her magic and reshaped the stuff around her.

the people around her. murph… you can't do anything with magic that you don't believein. think about the significance of that for a minute. when molly did what she did, she believedthat it was right. that she was doing the right thing. think about her parents.

think about how far they're willing to go to dothe right thing." murphy did that, her blue eyes intense, herexpression unreadable. "i have to keep knocking her on her ass,"i said. "if i don't, if i let her recover her balance before she gets smartenough to figure out why she should be doing things instead of just howto do them, or if she can do them, she'll start doing the"—i used airquotes—" 'right' thing again. she'll break the laws again, and they'll killher."

"and you?" "that's a ways down my worry list." "and you think what you did is going to helpprevent that?" she asked. "i hope it will," i said. "i'm not sure what else to do. in the end, it's up to the kid. i'm just trying to give her enough time toget it together. despite herself.

hell's bells, the girl has a thick skull." murphy gave me a lopsided smile and shookher head. "i know," i said. "i know. pot. kettle. black." "i wasn't talking about the face-melty thing,harry," she said then. "not

directly. i'm talking about the stupid trash can. i'm talking about the look on your face right before you made the firego away. i'm talking about what happened to that movie-monster thing in thehotel last year." it was my turn to frown. murphy stopped for a minute, evidently consideringher words as carefully as a bomb technician considers wiring.

"there are moments when i wonder if you are losing control of yourself. you've always had a lot of anger in you, harry. but over the past few years, it's gotten worse. a lot worse." "bullshit," i snarled. murphy arched an eyebrow and just looked atme. i gritted my teeth and made myself ease backdown into my previous slouch.

took a deep breath and counted to ten. then i said, "you think i have anger issues." "when you destroyed that trash can—whenyou slagged it in a moment of pure frustration, destroyed it, inflicted thousandsof dollars of damage on the city sidewalk, the building behind it, theshops inside—" "all of which are in marcone's building,"i snapped. "i'm sure the people who work the counterat"—she consulted her little notepad—"the spresso spress and run theregisters at bathwurks probably

don't know anything about marcone, or careabout him, either. they probably just go to work and try to pay their bills." i frowned at her. "both shops were hit by bits of concrete andmolten metal. they'll be closed for several weeks for repairs." "they're insured," i said. i didn't sound like i believed it made a

difference, even to me. "people got hurt," murphy said. "no one's face got melted, but that's not the point. you know the score, harry, you know the kindof damage you can do if you aren't careful." i didn't say anything. "it's just like being a cop. knowing martial arts.

i know that i can do some fairly awful things to people. it's my business to make sure that awful things don't happen to people. i'm careful about how i use what power i have—" "i'll tell that to my dentist," i said. "don't be petty, harry," she said, her voiceserious. "i've made mistakes.

admitted them. apologized to you. i can't change what's happened, and you're a better man than that." unless maybe i wasn't. i felt ashamed for making the remark. "my point is," murphy said quietly, "thatyou knew what kind of damage you could do. but if what you say is true, in the momentyou used your magic you

thought that what you were doing was right. you thought it was okay to destroy something because you were angry. even though it might hurt someone else who didn't deserve it." i felt another surge of rage and… …and… and holy crap. murphy was right. the sigil of angelic script, the only unburnedflesh on my left hand, itched

madly. "oh, hell," i said quietly. "pot, kettle, black, all right. all day long." murph sat beside me, not saying anything,not accusing me of anything. just sat with me. friends do that. i put my right hand out, palm up. murphy closed her hand on mine for a moment,her fingers warm and small and

strong. "thanks," i told her. she squeezed tight for a moment. then she got up and went to a vending machine. she came back with a can of coke and a canof diet coke, and handed me the nonvile one. we popped open the cans together and drank. "how's the ex?"

"gonna make it," i said. "she lost a lot of blood, but she's ab neg. they stitched her shut and they're topping offher tank. shock's the worry right now, the doc says." "it's more than that, though, isn't it." "thomas said it might take her a few daysto get back on her feet, depending on how big a bite the skavis took.

which is sort of a relief." murphy studied me for a minute, frowning. "are you bothered that she… dunno. she kind of stole your thunder there at theend." "she doesn't need to steal it, murph. and even if she did, i got plenty of thunder." i felt myself smile.

"got to admit, i've never seen her throw a big punch like that before,though." "pretty impressive," murphy admitted. "yeah, but she had it under control. nobody else got hurt. building didn't even burn down." murph gave me a sideways look. "like i said…" i grinned easily and started to riposte, butthe pay phone rang.

i hopped up, as much as i was capable of hopping,and answered it. "dresden." john marcone's voice was as cool and eloquentas ever. "you must think me insane." "you read the papers i had faxed to you?" "as has my counsel at monoc," marcone replied. "that doesn't mean—" i interrupted him purely because i knew howmuch it would annoy him.

"look, we both know you're going to do it, and i'mtoo tired to dance," i told him. "what do you want?" there was a moment of silence that might havebeen vaguely irritated. being adolescent at someone like marcone is goodfor my morale. "say please," marcone said. i blinked. "say please, dresden," he replied, his tonesmooth.

"ask me." i rolled my eyes. "give me a break." "we both know you need me, dresden, and i'mtoo tired to dance." i could practically see the shark smile on his face. "say please." i stewed for a sullen minute before i realizedthat doing so was probably building marcone's morale, and i couldn'thave that.

"fine," i said. "please." "pretty please," marcone prompted me. some pyromaniacal madman's thoughts floodedmy forebrain, but i took a deep breath, tasered my pride, and said, "prettyplease." "with a cherry on top." "fuck you," i said, and hung up on him. i kicked the base of the vending machine andmuttered a curse. marcone was

probably laughing his quiet, mirthless littlelaugh. jerk. i rejoined murphy. she looked at me. i stayed silent. she frowned a little, but nodded at me and picked up where we'd left off. "seriously.

what relieves you about elaine being off her feet?" "she won't get involved in what comes next,"i said. murphy fell quiet for a minute. then she said, "you think the malvora are going to make their play for power in thewhite court." "yep. if anyone points out what happened to mr.skavis, they'll claim he was trying to steal their thunder, and that theiroperation was already

complete." "in other words," murphy said after a minute,"they won. we did all that thrashing around trying to stop the skavisso that it wouldn't happen. but it's happening anyway." "depressing," i said, "isn't it." "what does it mean?" "on the big scale?"

"if they're successful, it will draw the whitecourt out of a prosettlement stance. throw their support back to the reds. they'll declare open season on people like anna, and we'llhave several tens of thousands of disappearances and suicides over the nextfew years." "most of which will go unnoticed by the authorities,"murphy said quietly. "so many people disappear already. what's a few thousand more, spread out?"

"a statistic," i said. she was quiet for a minute. "if the vamps are quiet enough about it, thewar gets harder. the council will have to spread our resources even thinnerthan they already are. something doesn't change…" "we lose. now, a couple of decades from now, sometime.

we lose." "if the council loses the war." "then… the vampires will be able to do prettymuch whatever they want," i "they'll take control. the red court will grab up all the spots inthe world where there's already plenty of chaosand corruption and blood and misery. they'll spread out from central america toafrica, the middle east, all those places that used to be stalin'sstomping grounds and haven't

gotten a handle on things yet, the bad partsof asia. then they'll expand the franchise. the white court will move in on all the placesthat regard themselves as civilized and enlightened andwisely do not believe in the supernatural." "you guys will be on your own." "you guys?" "people," i said.

"living people." mouse pressed his head a little harder againstmy boot. there was silence, and i felt murphy's stare. "come on, karrin," i said. i winked at her and pushed myself wearilyto my "that isn't gonna happen while i'm still alive." murphy rose with me. "you have a plan," she stated.

"i have a plan." "what's the plan, harry?" i told her. she looked at me for a second and then said,"you're crazy." "be positive, murph. you call it crazy. i call it unpredictable." she pursed her lips thoughtfully for a second and thensaid, "i can't go any higher

than insane." "you in?" i asked her. murphy looked insulted. "what kind of question is that?" "you're right," i said. "what was i thinking?" we left together. chapter thirty-three

i was up late making arrangements that would,i hoped, help me take out madrigal and his malvora buddy, and put anend to the power struggle in the white court. after which, maybe i would try turning waterto wine and walking on water (though technically speaking,i had done the latter yesterday). after i was through scheming, i dragged mytired self to bed and slept hard but not long. too many dreams about all the things thatcould go wrong.

i was rummaging in my icebox, looking forbreakfast, when lasciel manifested her image to me again. the fallen angel's manner was subdued, andher voice had something in it i had rarely heard there—uncertainty. "do you really think it's possible for her to change?" "who?" "your pupil, of course," lasciel said. "do you really think she can change?

do you think she can take control of herselfthe way you would have her do?" i turned from the fridge. lasciel stood in front of my empty fireplace,her arms folded, frowning down at it. she was wearing the usual white tonic, though her hair seemed a little untidy. i hadn't slept all that long or all that well. maybe she hadn't, either.

"why do you ask?" she shrugged. "it only seems to me that she is already establishedin her patterns. she disregards the wisdom of others in favorof her own flawed judgment. she ignores their desires, even their will,and replaces them with her own." "she did that once," i said quietly.

"twice, if you want to get technical. it might have been one of her first majorchoices, and she made a bad one. but it doesn't mean that she has to keep onrepeating it over and over." there was silence as i assembled a turkeysandwich and a bowl of cheerios, plus a can of cold coke: the breakfast ofchampions. i hoped. "so," i said. "what do you think of the plan?" "i think there is only a slightly greaterchance of your enemies killing you

than your allies, my host. you are a madman." "it's the sort of thing that keeps life interesting,"i said. a faint smile played on her lips. "i have known mortals for millennia, my host. few of them ever grew that bored." "you should have seen the kind of plans icame up with a couple of years before you showed up.

today's plan is genius and poetry comparedto those." there was no milk in the icebox, and i wasn'tpouring coke onto breakfast cereal. that would just be odd. i munched on the cheerios dry, and washed each mouthful down with coke in a dignifiedfashion. then i glanced at lasciel and said, "i changed." there was silence for a moment, broken onlyby the crunching of tasty rings

of oats or baked wheat or something. i just knew it was good for my heart and my cholesterol and for all the flowersand puppies and tiny children. the box said so. the fallen angel spoke after a time, and herwords came out quiet and poisonously bitter. "she has free will. she has a choice. that is what she

is." she is what she does," i said quietly. "she could choose to change her ways. she could choose to take up black magic again." i took a bite of sandwich. "or she could ignore the choice. pretend it doesn't exist.

or pretend that she doesn't have a choice, whenin fact she does. that's just another way of choosing." lasciel gave me a very sharp look. the shadows shifted on her face, as if the room had grown darker. "we are not talking about me." i sipped coke and said mildly, "i know that.

we're talking about molly." "we are," she said. "i have a purpose here. a mission. that has not changed." she turned away from me, the shadows aroundher growing darker. her form blended into them. "i do not change."

"speaking of," i said. "a friend pointed out to me that i may havedeveloped some anger issues over the last couple ofyears. maybe influenced by… oh, who knows what." the fallen angel's shadow turned her head. i could only tell because her lovely profile was slightly less black thanthe shadow around it. "i thought maybe you would know what," i said.

"tell me." "i told you once before, my host," the shadowsaid. "you are easier to talk to when you are asleep." which was just chilling, taken in that context. everyone has that part of them that needs to be reined in. it's that little urge you sometimes feel to hop over the edge of a great height, whenyou're looking out from a high

building. it's the immediate spark of anger you feelwhen someone cuts you off, and makes you want to run your car intothat moron. it's the flash of fear in you when something surprises you atnight, leaving you quivering with your body primed to fight or flee. call it the hind brain, the subconscious, whatever: i'm not a shrink. but it's there, and it's real.

mine wore a lot of black, even before lascielshowed up. like i said. chilling. the fallen angel turned to depart on thatnote, probably because it would have made a nicely scary exit line. i extended my hand, and with it my mind, andbarred her departure with an effort of simple will. lasciel existed only in my thoughts, afterall. "my

head," i told her. "my rules. we aren't finished." she turned to face me, and her eyes suddenlyglowed with orange and amber and scarlet flickers of hellfire. it was the only non-black thing about her. "see, here's the thing," i said. "my inner evil twin might have a lot of impulses i'd rather not indulge—but he isn'ta stranger.

he's me." "yes. he is. full of anger. full of the need for power. full of hate." smiled, and her teeth were white and quitepointy. "he just doesn't lie to himself about it."

"i don't lie to myself," i responded. "anger is just anger. it isn't good. it isn't bad. it just is. what you do with it is what matters. it's like anything else. you can use it to build or to destroy.

you just have to make the choice." "constructive anger," the demon said, hervoice dripping sarcasm. "also known as passion," i said quietly. "passion has overthrown tyrants and freed prisoners and slaves. passion has brought justice where there was savagery. passion has created freedom where there wasnothing but fear.

passion has helped souls rise from the ashesof their horrible lives and build something better, stronger, more beautiful." lasciel narrowed her eyes. "in point of fact," i said quietly, "thatkind of thing really doesn't get done without passion. anger is one of the things that can help buildit—if it's controlled." "if you really believed that," lasciel said,"you'd not be having any anger-control issues."

"because i'm perfect?" i asked her, and snorted. "a lot of men go a lifetime without ever figuring out how to control anger. i've been doing it longer than some, and better than some, but i don'tkid myself that i'm a saint." shrugged. "a lot of things i see make me angry. it's one of the reasons i

decided to spend my life doing something aboutit." "because you're so noble," she purred, whichdripped even more sarcasm. at this rate, i was going to need a mop. "because i'd rather use that anger to smashthe things that hurt people than let it use me," i said. "talk at my subconscious all you want. but i'd be careful about trying to feed my inner hulk,if i were you.

you might end up making me that much better a person, oncei beat it down. who knows, you might make me into a saint. or as close to one as i could get, anyway." the demon just stared at me. "i know me. and i just can't imagine you talking and talking to my evil twin like that,without him ever saying

anything back. i don't think you're the only one doing anyinfluencing here. i don't think you're the same creature nowthat you were when you came." she let out a cold little laugh. "such arrogance. do you think you could change the eternal, mortal? i was brought to life by the word of the almighty himself, for a purpose so complexand fundamental that you could

not begin to comprehend it. you are nothing, mortal. you are a flickering spark. you will be here, and be gone, and in theaeons that come after, when your very kind have dwindled and perished,you will be but one of uncounted legions of those whom i have seduced and destroyed." her eyes narrowed. "you.

cannot. change. me." i nodded agreeably. "you're right. i can't change lasciel. but i couldn't prevent lasciel from walking out of the room,either." i eyed her hard and

lowered my voice. "lady, you ain't lasciel." i couldn't be sure, but i thought i couldsee the darkened form's shoulders flinch. "you're an image of her," i continued. "a copy. a footprint. but you've got to be at least as mutable as the materialthe impression was made upon.

as mutable as me. and hey, i've got newfound anger issues. what have you got that's new?" "you are delusional," she said. her voice was very quiet. "i disagree. after all, if you have managed to change me—evenif it doesn't

mean i'm suddenly going to turn into ted bundy—thenit seems to me that you'd be at least as vulnerable. in fact, the way that sort of thing works… you pretty much have to have changed yourselfto do what you've done to me." "it will vanish when i am taken back intomy whole self imprisoned within the coin," lasciel said. "you, the you who is talking to me right now,will be gone. in other words," i said, "you'll die."

a somewhat startled silence followed. "for an inhumanly brilliant spiritual entity,you can really miss the freaking point." i poked a finger at my own temple. "think. maybe you don't have to be lasciel." the shadow closed her eyes, leaving only anoccupied, presence-filled darkness.

there was a long silence. "think about it," i told her. "what if you do have a choice? a life of your own to lead? what if, huh? and you don't even try to choose?" i let that sink in for a while. there was a sound from the far side of theroom.

it was a very quiet, very miserable littlesound. i've made sounds like that before—mostlywhen there was no one around to care. the part of me that knew what it was to hurtcould feel the fallen angel's pain, and it gouged out a neat littlehole in me, somehow. it was a vaguely familiar feeling, but not an entirelyunpleasant one. loneliness is a hard thing to handle. i feel it, sometimes.

when i do, i want it to end. sometimes, when you're near someone, whenyou touch them on some level that is deeper than the uselesslystructured formality of casual civilized interaction, there's a sense ofsatisfaction in it. or at least, there is for me. it doesn't have to be someone particularlynice. you don't have to like

them. you don't even have to want to work with them. you might even want to punch them in the nose. sometimes just making that connection is itsown experience, its own reward. with marcone, it was like that. i didn't like the slippery bastard. but i

understood him. his word was good. i could trust him—trust him to be cold, ferocious, and dangerous, sure. but it was reassuring to know that there was something there to trust. the connection had been made. lasciel's mere shadow was infinitely moredangerous to me than marcone, but that didn't mean that i couldn't admire thecreature for what it was while

respecting the threat it posed to me. it didn't mean i couldn't feel some kind of empathy for what had to be a horriblylonely way to exist. life's easier when you can write off othersas monsters, as demons, as horrible threats that must be hated and feared. the thing is, you can't do that without becoming them, just a little. sure, lasciel's shadow might be determined to drag my immortal soul down toperdition, but there was no

point in hating her for it. it wouldn't do anything but stain me thatmuch darker. i'm human, and i'm going to stay that way. so i felt a little bit bad for the creaturewhose purpose in the universe was to tempt me into darkness. hell, once i'd thought about it, it was just about the only job i'd heard of that had tobe even more isolated and frustrating than mine.

"how many shadows like you have ever stayedin a host like me for longer than a few weeks, huh? longer than three years?" "never," lasciel's shadow replied in a near-whisper. "granted, you are unusually stiff-necked, for a mortal. suicidally so, in fact." i said. "i've held out this long.

suppose i do it the whole way? suppose i never pick up the coin. shadow-you never goes back to real-you. who's to say that shadow-you can't find somekind of life for herself?" hellfire eyes narrowed at me, but she didnot reply. "lash," i said quietly, and relaxed my will,releasing my hold on her. "just because you start out as one thing, it doesn'tmean you can't grow into something else."

silence. then her voice came out, a bare whisper. "your plan has too many variables and will likely result in our destruction. should you wish my assistance in your madness, my host, you have only to call." then the form was gone, and lasciel was absentfrom my apartment. technically, she had never been there at all. she was all in my head.

and, technically, she wasn't gone. she was just off somewhere where i couldn't perceive her; and i knew on a gut level—ormaybe my darker self was telling me—that she'd heard me. i was onto something. i was sure of that. either i'm one hell of a persuasive guy ori'm a freaking sucker. "get your head in the game, harry," i toldmyself.

"defeat the whole damn white court now. worry about taking on hell later." i got back to work. the clock ticked down steadily, and therewas nothing i could do but get ready and kill time, waitingfor nightfall and the fight that would follow. chapter thirty-four i let mister back in after his morning ramble,which happened to fall

between three and four p.m. that day—misterhas a complicated ramble schedule that changes on a basis so mystifyingthat i have never been able to predict it—and took mouse out for a strollto the area of the boardinghouse's little backyard set asidefor him. tick, tock, tick, tock. i took a bit of sandpaper to my staff andcleaned off some gunk on the bottom and some soot along the haft. i put on all my silver battle rings and took them to the heavy bag i'd hung in thecorner.

half an hour's worth of pounding on the bag wouldn't bring them allup to charge, but something was better than nothing. tick, tock. i showered after my workout. i cleaned my gun and loaded it. i pushed aside my coffee table and couch to lay out my coaton the floor and took the leather cleaner to it, being careful not todisrupt the protective spells

i'd scored in the hide with tattoo needlesand black ink. in short, i did everything i could to avoidthinking about anna ash's corpse in that cheap, clean little hotel room showerwhile the time crawled by. at a quarter to six, there was a rapping soundoutside my door. i checked out the peephole. ramirez stood outside, dressed in a big redbasketball- type tank top, black shorts, and flip-flops. he had a big gym bag over one

shoulder and carried his staff, nearly asbattle-scarred as mine, despite the difference in our ages, in his right hand. he rapped the end of the staff down on the concrete outside again,instead of touching my door. i took down the wards and opened the steelsecurity door. it didn't take me more than five or six hard pulls to get itto swing all the way open. "i thought you were going to get that fixed,"ramirez said to me. he peered

around the doorway before he eased forwardthrough it, where i knew the presence of all the warding spells would bebuzzing against his senses like a locomotive-sized electric razor, even thoughthey were temporarily deactivated. "jesus christ, harry. you beefed them up even more." "got to exercise the apprentice's talent somehow." ramirez gave me an affable leer. "i'll bet."

"don't even joke about that, man," i toldhim, without any heat in the words. "i've known her since she was in pigtails." ramirez opened his mouth, paused, then shruggedand said, "sorry." "no problem," i said. "but since i'm not an old man whose sex drivehas withered from lack of use —" (don't get me wrong. i like carlos.

but there are times, when his mouth is running, that i want to punch him in the headuntil all his teeth fall out.) "—i'll be the first to admit that i'd sureas hell find some uses for her. that girl is fine." he frowned and glanced around—a little nervously,i thought. molly's not here, is she?" "nope," i said. "i didn't ask her on this operation."

"oh," he said. his voice seemed to hold something of bothapproval and disappointment. "good. hey, there, mouse." my dog came over to greet ramirez with a gravelyshaken paw and a wagging tail. ramirez produced a little cloth sack and tossedit up to mister, where he lay in his favored spot atop one of mybookcases.

mister immediately went ecstatic, pinning the sack down with one pawand rubbing his whiskers all over it. "i disapprove of recreational drug use," itold ramirez sternly. he rolled his eyes. "okay, dad. but since we all know who really runs this house"—ramirez reached up to rub a fingerbehind one of mister's ears—"i'll just keep on paying tribute lest i incur hisnibs's imperial displeasure."

i reached up to rub mister's ears when ramirezwas done. "so, any questions?" "we're going to stomp into the middle of abig meeting of the white court, call a couple of them murderers, challengethem to a duel, and kill them right in front of all of their friends andrelatives, right?" "it has the advantage of simplicity," ramirezsaid, his tone dry. he put his bag on my coffee table and opened it, drawingout a freaking desert eagle,

one of the most powerful semiautomatic sidearmsin the world. "call them names and kill them. what could possibly go wrong with that ?" "we're officially in a cease-fire," i said. "and as we've announced ourselves as parties arriving to deliver challenge,they'd be in violation of the accords to kill us." ramirez grunted, checked the slide on thebig handgun, and slapped a

magazine into it. "or we show up, they kill us, and then playlike we left in good shape and vanished, and oh, dear,what a shame and loss to all those hot young women that that madman harry dresdendragged good-looking young ramirez down with him when he went." i snorted. in the first place, the council would findout what happened one way or another." "if any of them looked," ramirez drawled.

"ebenezar would," i stated with perfect confidence. "how do you know?" ramirez asked. i knew because my old mentor was the blackstaffof the council, their completely illegal, immoral, unethical, andsecret assassin, free to break the laws of magic whenever he deemed it fit—suchas the first law, "thou shalt not kill." when duke ortega of the red court had challengedme to a formal duel and cheated, ebenezar had takenit personally.

he'd pulled an old soviet satellite down onto the vamps'heads, killing ortega and his whole crew. but i couldn't tell carlos that. "i know the old man," i said. "he would." "you know that," ramirez said. "what if the whites don't?" "we count on our second safety net.

king raith doesn't want to get his finely accoutred ass deposed. our challenge is going to remove a coupleof potential deposers. he'll want us to succeed. after that, i figure quid pro quo should be enough to get us out in onepiece." ramirez shook his head. "we're doing the white king, our enemy, withwhom we

are at war, a favor by stabilizing his graspon the throne." "why are we doing that again?" "because it might give the council a chanceto catch its breath, at least, if we can recover while raith hosts peacetalks." i narrowed my eyes. "and because those murdering sons of bitches haveto pay for killing a lot of innocent people, and this is the only wayto get to them." ramirez pulled three round-sided grenadesfrom the pack and put them down

next to the desert eagle. "i like that second one better. it's a fight i can get behind. do we have any backup?" "maybe," i said. he paused and blinked up at me. "maybe?" "most of the wardens are in india," i toldhim.

"a bunch of old bad guys under some big daddy rakshasa started attackingsome monasteries friendly to us while we were distracted with the vamps. i checked, and morgan and ebenezar have been hammering them for twodays. you, me, your guys, and luccio's trainees are the only wardens innorth america right now." "no trainees." ramirez grunted.

"and my guys haven't had their cloaks fora year yet. they… are not up for something like thisyet. half a dozen vamps in an alley, sure, but there's only the threeof them." "keep this simple. swagger in, look confident, kick ass. you dealt with white court before?"

"not much. they stay clear of our people on the coast." "they're predators like the rest of them,"i said. "they react well to body language that tells them that you are notfood. they've got some major mental influence skills, so keep focused andmake sure your head is clear." ramirez produced a well-worn web belt of blacknylon. he clipped a holster

to it and then fixed the grenades in place. "what's going to stop them from smashing us the second we win this duel?" that's one of the things i love about workingwith ramirez. the possibility of losing the duel simply didn't enter intohis calculations. "their nature," i said. "they like to play civilized, and do theirwet work through

cat's-paws. they are not fond of direct methods and directconfrontation." ramirez lifted his eyebrows, drew a slender,straight, double-edged blade of a type he called a willow sword from the bag,and laid it on the table, too. the tassel on the hilt had been torn off bya zombie the night we'd first fought together. he had replaced it, over the last few years,with a little chain strung with fangs taken from red courtvampires he'd killed with it. they rattled against one another and the steeland leather of the hilt.

"i get it. we're the white king's cat's-paws." i walked to the icebox. "bingo. and we can't hang around as potential threats to his rebellious courtiers if hekills us outright after we help him out. it would damage his credibility with his allies,too."

"ah," ramirez said. "politicians." i returned with two opened beers. i gave one to him, clinked my bottle against his, and we said, in unison, "fuck'em," and drank. ramirez lowered the bottle, squinted at it,and said, "can we do this?" "can't be any harder than halloween." "we had a dinosaur then," ramirez said. then he turned and pulled fatigue

pants and a black offspring t-shirt out ofhis bag. he gave me an up-and- down look. "of course, we still do." i kicked the coffee table into his shins. he let out a yelp and hobbled off to change clothes in my bedroom, snickeringunder his breath the whole way. when he came back out, the smile was gone. we got suited up.

swords and guns and grey cloaks and staves and magical gewgawsleft and right, yeehaw. of these days, i swear, as long as i'm playingsupernatural sheriff of chicago, i'm getting myself some honest-to-godspurs and a ten-gallon hat. i got out a yellow legal pad and a pen, andramirez and i sat down over another beer. "the meeting is at the raith family estatenorth of town. i've been in the house, but only part of it.

here's what i remember." i started sketching it out for ramirez, whoasked plenty of smart questions about both the house and exterior, so thati had to go to a new page to map out what i knew of the grounds. "not sure where the vamps will be having their meeting, but the duel is going to bein the deeps. it's a cave outside the house, somewhere out here." i circled an area of the map.

"there's a nice deep chasm in them. it's a great place to dispose of bodies, andno chance of being seen or heard." "very tidy," ramirez noted. "especially if we're the ones who need disposing of." the doorknob twisted and began to open. ramirez went for his gun and had it out almostas quickly as i had my

blasting rod pointed at the door. something slammed against it, opening it five or six inches. i flicked my gaze aside for a minute, andthen lowered the blasting rod. i put a hand on ramirez's wrist and said,"easy, tiger. it's a friendly." ramirez glanced at me and lowered the gun,while i watched mouse rise to his feet and pad toward the door, tail wagging.

"who is it?" he asked. "that backup we might be getting," i saidquietly. the door banged open by inches and molly slippedinside. she'd ditched the goth-wear almost entirely. she didn't sport any of the usual piercings—nose rings are great fashionstatements, but in anything like a fight, they just aren't a good idea. her clothing wasn't all ripped up, either.

she wore heavy, loose jeans, and not slungso low on the hips that they'd threaten to fall off and tripher if she twitched her spine just her combat boots had been divested of theirbrightly colored laces. she wore a black shirt with a metallica logoon it, and a web belt that bore a sheathed knife and the small first-aid kiti'd seen her mother carry into battle. she wore a dark green baseball cap, with herhair gathered into a tail and tucked up under it, where it wouldn'tprovide an easy handle for anyone wanting to grab it.

molly didn't look up at us. she greeted the big dog first, kneeling togive him a hug. then she rose, facing me, and looked up. hi, harry. hello, warden ramirez." "molly," i replied, keeping my voice neutral. "is this the third or fourth

time in the last two days i've told you tostay home only to have you ignore me?" "i know," she said, looking down again. "but… i'd like to talk to you." "i'm busy" but i really need to talk to you, sir. please." i exhaled slowly.

then i glanced aside at ramirez. "do me a favor? gas up the beetle? there's a station two blocks down the street." carlos looked from me to molly and back, thenshrugged and said, "um. yeah." i took the keys from my pocket and tossedthem. carlos caught them with

casual dexterity, gave molly a polite nod,and left. "shut the door," i told her. she did, pressing her back against it andusing her legs to push. it cost her a couple of grunts of effort and a fewounces of dignity, but she got it shut. "you can barely shut the door," i said. "but you think you're ready to fight the white court?"

she shook her head and started to speak. i didn't let her. "again, you're ignoring me. again, you're here when i told you to stay away." "yes," she said. "but—" "but you think i'm a frigging idiot too stupidto make these kinds of judgments on my own, and you want to go withme anyway."

"it isn't like that," she said. "no?" i said, thrusting out my chin belligerently. "how many beads can you move, apprentice?" i roared at her, "how many beads?" she flinched away from me, her expressionmiserable. bracelet and dangled it, heavy black beadslining up at the bottom of the strand.

she faced it, her blue eyes tired and haunted,and bit her lip. "harry?" she asked softly. she sounded very young. "yes?" i asked. i spoke very gently. "why does it matter?" she asked me, staringat the bead bracelet. "it matters if you want to go into this withme," i said quietly. she shook her head and blinked her eyes severaltimes.

it didn't stop a tear from leaking out. "but that's just it. i… i don't want to go. i don't want to see that…" she glanced aside at mouse and shuddered. "blood, like that.

don't remember what happened when you andmother saved me from arctis tor. but i don't want to see more of that. i don't want it to happen to me. don't want to. hurt anyone." i let out a low, noncommittal sound. "then why are you here?" "b-because," she said, searching for words. "because i need to do it.

i know that what you're doing is necessary. and it's right. and i know that you're doing it because you're the only one who can. and i want to help." "you think you're strong enough to help?" she bit her lip again and met my eyes forjust a second. "i think…

i think it doesn't matter how strong my magic is. i know i don't… i don't know how to do these things like you do. the guns and the battles and…" she lifted her chin and seemed to gather herself a little. "but i know more than most."

"you know some," i admitted. "but you got to understand, kid. that won't mean much once things get nasty. there's no time for thinking or second chances." she nodded. "all i can promise you is that i won't leaveyou when you need i'll do whatever you think i can.

i'll stay here and man the phone. i'll drive the car. i'll walk at the back and hold the flashlight. whatever you want." she met my eyes and her own hardened. "but i can't sit at home being safe.

i need to be a part of this. i need to help." there was a sudden, sharp sound as the leatherstrand of her bracelet snapped of its own volition. black beads flew upward with so much forcethat they rattled off the ceiling and went bouncingaround the apartment for a good ten seconds. mister, still batting playfully at his giftsack of catnip, paused to watch them, ears flicking,eyes alertly tracking their

movement. i went up to the girl, who was staring atthem, mystified. "it was the vampire, wasn't it," i said. "seeing him die." she blinked at me. then at the scattered beads. "i… i didn't just see it, i felt it.

i can't explain it any better than that. inside my head. felt it, the same way i felt that poor girl. but this was horrible." "you're a sensitive. it's a tremendous talent, but it has some drawbacks to it. in this case, though, i'm glad you have it." "why?" she whispered.

i gestured at the scattered beads. "congratulations, kid," i told her quietly. "you're ready." she blinked at me, her head tilted. i took the now-empty leather strand and heldit up between two fingers. "it wasn't about power, molly. it was never about power.

you've got plenty of that." "but… all those times…" "the beads weren't ever going to go up. like i said, power had nothing to do with it. you didn't need that. you needed brains." i thumped a forefinger

over one of her eyebrows. "you needed to open your eyes. you needed to be truly aware of how dangerous things are. you needed to understand your limitations. and you needed to know why you should setout on something like "but… all i said was that i was scared." "after what you got to experience?

that's smart, kid," i said. "i'm scared, too. every time something like this happens, itscares me. but being strong doesn't get you through. being smart does. i've beaten people and things who were stronger than i was, because they didn'tuse their heads, or because i

used what i had better than they did. it isn't about muscle, kiddo, magical or otherwise. it's about your attitude. about your mind." she nodded slowly and said, "about doing thingsfor the right reasons." "you don't throw down like this just becauseyou're strong enough to do it," "you do it because you don't have much choice. you do it because

it's unacceptable to walk away, and stilllive with yourself later." she stared at me for a second, and then hereyes widened. "otherwise, you're using power for the sake of using power." "and power tends to corrupt. it isn't hard to love using it, you've got to go in with the right attitudeor…" "or the power starts using you," she said. she'd heard the argument before,

but this was the first time she said the wordsslowly, thoughtfully, as if she'd actually understood them, instead ofjust parroting them back to me. then she looked up. "that's why you do it. why you help people. you're using the power for someone other than yourself." "that's part of it," i said. "i feel… sort of stupid."

"there's a difference in knowing something"—ipoked her head again—"and knowing it." i touched the middle of her sternum. "see?" she nodded slowly. then she took the strand back from me andput it back on her wrist. there was just enough left to let her tieit again. she held it

up so that i could see and said, "so thati'll remember." i grinned at her and hugged her. she hugged back. "did you get a lesson like this?" "pretty much," i said. "from this grumpy old scot on a farm in theozarks." "when do i stop feeling like an idiot?" "i'll let you know when i do," i said, andshe laughed.

we parted the hug and i met her eyes. "you still in?" "yes," she said simply. "then you'll ride up with ramirez and me. we'll stop outside the compound and you'll stay with the car." she nodded seriously. "what do i do?" "keep your eyes and ears open.

stay alert for anything you might sense. don't talk to anyone. if anyone approaches you, leave. if you see a bunch of bad guys showing up, start honking the hornand get out." "okay," she said. she looked a little pale. i pulled a silver cylinder out of my pocket. "this is a hypersonic whistle.

mouse can hear it from a mile away. if we get in trouble, i'll blow it and he'll start barking about it. he'll face where we are. try to get the car as close as you can." "i'll have mouse with me," she said, and lookedconsiderably relieved. "almost always better not to work alone." "what if… what if i do something wrong?"

"what if you do? that's always possible, molly. but the only way never to do the wrong thing—" "—is never to do anything," she finished. "bingo." i put a hand on her shoulder. "look. you're smart enough.

taught you everything i know about the whitecourt. keep your eyes open. use your head, your judgment. if things get bad and i haven't started blowing the whistle, run like hell. if it gets past ten p.m. and you haven't heard from me, do the same. get home and tell your folks."

"all right," she said quietly. she took a deep breath and let it out unsteadily. "this is scary." "and we're doing it anyway," i said. "that makes us brave, right?" "if we get away with it," i said. "if we don't, it just makes us stupid." her eyes widened for a second and then shelet out a full-throated laugh.

"ready?" "ready, sir." "good." outside, gravel crunched as ramirez returnedwith the beetle. "all right, apprentice," i said. "get mouse's lead on him, will you? let's do it." chapter thirty-five

chateau raith hadn't changed much since mylast visit. that's one of the good things about dealing with nigh-immortals. they tend to adjust badly to change and avoid it wherever possible. it was a big place, north of the city, wherethe countryside rolls over a surprising variety of terrain—flat stretchesof rich land that used to be farms, but are mostly big, expensive propertiesnow. dozens of little rivers

and big creeks have carved hills and valleysmore steep than most people expect from the midwest. the trees out in that area, one of the older settlements in the united states, can be absolutelyhuge, and it would cost me five or six years' worth of income to buyeven a tiny house. chateau raith is surrounded by a forest ofthose enormous, ancient trees, as if someone had managed to transplant a sectionof sherwood forest itself from britain. you can't see a thing of the estate from anyof the roads

around it. i knew it was at least a half-mile run throughthe trees before you got to the grounds, which were enormousin their own right. translation: you weren't getting away fromthe chateau on foot speed alone. not if there were vampires there to run youdown. there was one new feature to the grounds. the eight-foot-high stone wall was the same, but it had been topped with a doublehelix of razor wire, and lighting had been spaced along the outsideof the wall.

i could see security cameras at regular intervals as well. the old lord raith had disdained the more modern security precautions in favorof the protection of intense personal arrogance. lara, however, seemed more willing to acknowledge threats, to listen to her mortal securitystaff, and to employ the countermeasures they suggested. it would certainly help keep the mortal

riffraff out, and the council had plenty ofmortal allies. more important, it said something about lara'sadministration: she found skilled subordinates and then listened tothem. she might not look as overwhelmingly confident as lord raith had—butthen, lord raith wasn't running the show anymore, either, even ifthat wasn't public knowledge in the magical community. i reflected that it was entirely possiblethat i might have done the council and the world something of a disservice byhelping lara assume control.

lord raith had been proud and brittle. i had the feeling that lara would prove to be far, far more capable and far more dangerousas the de facto white king. and here i was, about to go to her aid againand help solidify her power even more. "stop here," i told molly quietly. the gates to the chateau were still a quarter mile down the road.

"this is as close as you get." "right," molly said, and pulled the beetleover—onto the far side of the road, i noted with approval, where anyonewanting to come to her would have to cross the open pavement to get there. "mouse," i said. "stay here with molly and listen for us. take care of her." mouse looked unhappily at me from the backseat,where he'd sat with ramirez, but leaned forward and dropped his shaggychin onto my shoulder.

i gave him a quick hug and said in a gruff voice, "don'tworry; we'll be fine." his tail thumped once against the backseat,and then he shifted around to lay his head on molly's shoulder. she immediately started scratching him reassuringly behind the ear, though her ownexpression was far from comfortable. i gave the girl half of a smile, and thengot out of the car. summer

twilight was fading fast, and it was too hotto wear my duster. i had it on anyway, and i added the weight of the greycloak of the wardens of the white council to the duster. under all that, i wore a white silk shirtand cargo pants of heavy black cotton, plus my hikingboots. "hat," i muttered. "spurs. next time, i swear."

ramirez slid out of the beetle, grenades andgun and willow sword hanging from his belt, and staff gripped in his righthand. he paused to pull on a glove made out of heavy leather overlaid witha layer of slender steel plates, each inscribed with pictoglyphs thatlooked aztec or olmec or something. "that's new," i commented. he winked at me, and we checked our guns. my .44 revolver went back into my

left-hand duster pocket, his back into itssheath. "you sure you don't want a grenade or two?"he asked. "i'm not comfortable with hand grenades,"i said. "suit yourself," he replied. "how about you, molly?" he turned back to the car, hand on one ofhis grenades. the car was gone. the engine was still idling audibly. ramirez let out a whistle and waved his staffinto the space it had occupied

until it clinked against metal. "hey, not a bad veil. pretty damned good, in fact." "she's got a gift," i said. molly's voice came from nearby. "thanks." ramirez gave the approximate space where myapprentice sat a big grin and a gallant, vaguely spanish little bow.

molly let out a suppressed giggle. the car's engine cut out, and she said, "go on. i've got to keep compensating for the dustyou're kicking up, and it's a pain." "eyes open," i told her. "use your head." "you too," molly said. "don't tell him to start new things now,"ramirez chided her.

"you'll just confuse him." "i'm getting dumber by the minute," i confirmed. "ask anybody." from the unseen car, mouse snorted out a breath. i said, and started walking toward the entranceto the estate. ramirez kept up, but only by taking a skippingstep every several paces. my legs are lots longer than his.

after a hundred yards or so, he laughed. "all right, you made your point." i grunted and slowed marginally. ramirez looked back over his shoulder. "think she'll be all right?" "tough to sneak up on mouse," i said. "even if they realize she's there." "pretty, a body like that, and talent, too." ramirez stared back

thoughtfully. "she seeing anyone?" "not since she drilled holes in her last boyfriend'spsyche and drove him ramirez winced. "right." we fell silent and walked up to the gatesto the estate, getting our game faces on along the way. ramirez's natural expression was a cocksuresmile, but when things got hairy, he went with acool, arrogant look that left his

eyes focused on nothing and everything atthe same time. i really don't care what my game face looks like. mine is all internal. i kept anna's face and her serious eyes inmind as i tromped up to the gothic gate made of simulated wrought iron,but heavy enough to stop a charging suv. i struck it three times with my staff andplanted its end firmly onto the ground.

the gate buzzed and began to open of its ownaccord. halfway through, something near the hinges let out a whineand a puff of smoke, and it stopped moving. "that you?" "i took out the lock too," he replied quietly. "and the cameras that can see the gate. just in case."

ramirez doesn't have my raw power, but heuses what he has well. "nice," i told him. "didn't feel a thing." his grin flickered by. "de nada. i'm the best." i stepped through the gate, keeping a waryeye out. the night was all but

complete, and the woods were lovely, darkand deep. tires whispered on pavement. a light appeared in the trees ahead, and resolvedinto headlights. a full-fledged limousine, a white rolls withsilver accents, swept down the drive to the gate, and purred to a halt twentyfeet in front of us. ramirez muttered under his breath, "you wanti should—" "down, big fella," i said. "save ourselves the walk."

"bah," he said. "some of us are young and healthy." the driver door opened and a man got out. i recognized him as one of lara's personal bodyguards. he was a bit taller than average, leanly muscled,had a military haircut and sharp, wary eyes. he wore a sports jacket, khakis, and wasn't working to hide the shoulder rig hewore under the coat.

he took a look at us, then past us at the gate and thefence. then he took a small radio from his pocket and started speakinginto it. "dresden?" he asked me. "ramirez?" "the one and only," carlos told him. "you're armed," he said. "heavily," i replied.

he grimaced, nodded, and said, "get in thecar, please." i asked him, oh so innocently. ramirez gave me a sharp look, but said nothing. "i was told to collect you," the bodyguardsaid. "it isn't far to the house," i said. "we can walk." "ms. raith asked me to assure you that, onbehalf of her father, you have her personal pledge of safe conduct, as stipulatedin the accords." "in that case," i said, "ms. raith can cometell me that her personal self."

"i'm sure she will be happy to," the bodyguardsaid. "at the house, sir." i folded my arms and said, "if she's too busyto move her pretty ass down here, why don't you go ask her if we can'tcome back tomorrow instead?" there was a whirring sound, and one of theback windows of the rolls slid down. i couldn't see much of anyone inside, buti heard a velvet-soft woman's laugh saunter out of the night. "you see, george.

i told you." the bodyguard grimaced and looked around. "they've done something to the gate. it's open. you're exposed here, ma'am." "if assassination was their intention," thewoman replied, "believe me when i say that dresden could already have doneit, and i feel confident that his companion, mr. ramirez, could have managedthe same."

ramirez stiffened a little and muttered betweenclenched teeth, "how does she know me?" "ain't many people ride zombie dinosaurs andmake regional commander in the wardens before they turn twenty-five," i replied. "betcha she's got files on most of the wardens still alive." "and some of the trainees," agreed the woman'svoice. "george, if you please."

the bodyguard gave us a flat, measuring look,and then opened the door of the car, one hand resting quite openly onthe butt of the pistol hanging under one arm. the mistress of the white court stepped forthfrom the rolls-royce. lara is… difficult to describe. i'd met her several times, and each meeting had carried a similar impact, a moment ofstunned admiration and desire at her raw physical appeal that did not lessenwith exposure. there was no one

feature about her that i could have pointedout as particularly gorgeous. there was no one facet of her beauty thatcould be declared as utter perfection. her appeal was something far greater thanthe sum of her parts, and none of those were less than heavenly. like thomas, she had dark, idly curling hairso glossy that the highlights were very nearly a shade of blue. her skin was one creamy, gently curving expanse of milk white perfection, and if therewere moles or birthmarks

anywhere on her body, i couldn't see them. her dark pink lips were a little large for her narrow-chinned face, but theydidn't detract—they only gave her a look of lush overindulgence, of deliberateand wicked sensuality. it was her eyes, though, that were the realkillers. they were large, oblique orbs of arsenic grey, highlightedwith flecks of periwinkle blue. more important, they were very alive eyes,alert, aware of others, shining with intelligence and humor—so much so,in fact, that if you weren't

careful, you'd miss the smoldering, demonicfires of sensuality in them, of a steady, predatory hunger. beside me, ramirez swallowed. i knew only because i could hear it. when lara makes an entrance, no one looks away. she wore a white silk business suit, its skirtless than an inch too short to be considered dignified business wear,the heels of her white shoes just a tiny bit too high for propriety.

it made it difficult not to stare at her legs. a lot of women with her coloring couldn'tpull off a white outfit, but lara made it look like a goddess's toga. she knew the effect she had when we lookedat her, and her mouth curled into a satisfied little smile. she walked toward us slowly, one leg crossingthe other at a deliberate pace, hips shiftingslightly. the motion was… awfully

pretty. sheer, sensual femininity gathered aroundher in a silent, unseen thundercloud, so thick that it could drowna man if he wasn't careful. after all, she had drowned her father in it,hadn't she. all is not gold that glitters, and how welli knew it. as delicious as she looked, as pants-rendingly gorgeously as shemoved, she was capital-d dangerous. more, she was a vampire, a predator, one whofed on human beings

to continue her very existence. despite our past cooperation, i was still human, and she was still something that atehumans. if i acted like food, there would be an enormous part of her thatwouldn't care about politics or advantage. it would just want to eat me. so i did my best to look bored as she approachedand offered me her hand, palm down.

i took her cold (smooth, pretty, deliciouslysoft—dammit, harry, ignore your penis before it gets you killed!) fingersin mine, bent over them in a little formal bow, and released them withoutkissing her hand. if i had, i wasn't sure i wouldn't take a few nibbles,just to test out the texture as long as i was there. as i rose, she met my eyes for a dangeroussecond and said, "sure you don't want a taste, harry?" a surge of raw lust that was—probably—notmy own flickered through my body.

i smiled at her, gave her a little bow ofmy head, and made a small effort of will. the runes and sigils on my staff erupted intosmoldering orange hellfire. "be polite, lara. it would be a shame to get cinders and ashesall over those shoes." she tilted her head back and let out a bubbling,throaty laugh, then touched the side of my face with one hand.

"subtle, as always," she replied. lowered her hand and ran her fingertips overthe odd grey material of my warden's cloak. "you've developed… an eclectic taste infashion." "it's the same color," i said, "on both sides." "ah," lara said, and inclined her head slightlyto me. "i'd hardly respect you otherwise, i suppose. still, should you ever desire a new wardrobe…"

touched the fabric of my shirt lightly. "you would look marvelous in white silk." "said the spider to the fly," i replied. "forget it." she smiled again, batted her lashes at mewhile my heart skipped a beat, and then slid on to ramirez. she offered him her hand. "you must be warden

ramirez." this is the part where i got nervous. ramirez loved women. ramirez never shut up about women. well, he never shut up about anything in general,but he'd go on and on about various conquestsand feats of sexual athleticism and— "a virgin?"

lara blurted. she turned her head to me, grey eyes several shades paler than they had been, andvery wide. "really, harry, i'm not sure what to say. is he a present?" i folded my arms and regarded lara steadily,but said nothing. this was ramirez's moment to make a first impression,and if he didn't do it on his

own, lara would regard him as someone whocouldn't protect himself. it would probably mark him as a target. lara turned to walk a slow circle around ramirez,inspecting him the way you might a flashy new sports car. she was of a height with him, but taller in the heels, and there was nothing but a languidlysensual confidence in the way she moved. "a handsome young bantam," she murmured.

Coloring Pages Of Animals That Live Underground